I had been looking forward to this weekend for weeks. Seems nothing had been going right since I’d graduated. I was able to take the reins of the company, under the watchful eyes of my father’s executors, once my MBA had been achieved, but I was still in the process of getting myself up to speed and working to make things better.
I had been able to get my degree, then do a few years in the service, but when Mom and Dad were killed, I pretty much had to change course and go back to school. Stanford was, of course, a good school. Mom and Dad were both alums and I was paying my way, so it wasn’t hard to get in. But, I hated it. The area, most of the people, I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t fit in well. We had a small circle of us with conservative values and a brighter outlook on the future. It may just be the times we live in, but we were optimistic about the world. We were definitely outnumbered.
In any case, I graduated and three months after I was installed as the CEO of my own company in my father’s stead, and after only about four Sunday afternoons off during that entire three-month period, I made a break for it and told the plant managers I was disappearing for a couple days. It was September, a couple days after Labor Day and the lake was quiet. Very quiet. A few boats with a few other folks playing hookey, and that was about it.
I was back in a cove, meandering through some stumps, close to a rock ledge, generally a pretty good place to pull a bass or crappie up on a spinner under the surface or throw a small bluegill or hot dog down for a nice flathead off the bottom. I wasn’t in the mood for food, so I opted to just play and see if I could spin my way into some recreation.
As I threw my line out, a beautiful cast, a flash of light colored cloth moving between the weeds on the bank was an absolute surprise, naturally getting my attention. I reeled in quickly, then pulled my trolling motor up and ran the boat aground in a little pea gravel cove to check it out. I jumped up the bank, and behind the bush there was a young girl. Dirty. Crying. She was a filthy mess. She held her hands up to me and when I picked her up, she wrapped her arms around my neck, and hardly let go for years. The story behind my finding Robin and the result of that discovery follows.
My first concern was to make sure she was OK. She seemed in fairly good shape, but she was scared. Very, very afraid.
“Honey, what’s your name?”
I handed her a bottle of water out of the cooler. She drank most of it. “Slow down, child. Robin, are you hungry?”
I reached into the cooler and handed her half of a sandwich I brought with me. She took a couple of bites. “Robin, what are you doing out here?”
Tears fell. “I swam over here from out there.” She pointed to the middle of the channel. “They’re gone, aren’t they?” She put the last couple bites of my sandwich down, wrapped her arms around my neck and just broke down, entirely. “I’m lost. Again.” I hesitated, fearing hurting her, emotionally, physically, I didn’t know, but when I wrapped my arms around her and just held her, she quieted a bit. “They were fighting on the boat. I was getting ready to ski. He said something mean. She slapped him. He fell. The boat jumped. I fell off the back. The boat went all the way over there and blew up. I saw lights and people but it was late.” She started crying again.
I’d heard there was an accident Monday evening. Now I had the rest of the story. There was no mention of a child involved, at the time. Just a man and a woman, both killed in the blaze when the boat smashed into the rocks and caught fire.
“Robin, I need to take you to the police and get you home.” She hugged me tighter with one arm and reached for the sandwich with the other.
While she chewed and swallowed and cried, and sobbed, seemingly all at the same time, she told me “No,” and held my neck. “No. What’s your name?”
“Charles. Charles Allen Jackson. You can call me Charlie. Just Charlie, for now. OK?”
She sniffled and nodded. “Charlie, I don’t want to go back. I was sent to live with them two years ago. About two years. I was twelve, almost thirteen. They were looking into adopting me. If I go back into the system, no one will want me, unless it’s for ... I’m too old. I will spend the next four years going from one hole to the next, being used as help. I’ve seen it. I’ve been there. I’m pretty sure one of the things they fought about was me. Gary was ... He was looking at me funny.” She took the last bite, chewed, swallowed, and drank some water. “Will you please stay with me if you take me in? They’ll call children’s services and...” She started crying again and buried her face in my neck. “Why am I...” I just squeezed her and rocked her. She stopped.
This was a kid from ‘the system’. I personally had no idea what she had gone through or could go through. Except for me doing a stint in the Air Force as a Security Policeman, most recently a Shift Commander, I had led a sheltered life. Not spoiled. Not by any means. My parents wouldn’t let that happen, but definitely sheltered. I had no idea what an orphan went through in the Child Welfare system, or foster care system, or whatever they called it.
I checked my phone for a signal. Two bars. Wednesday. Who could I call? George. Legal. He wasn’t a lawyer, but a high end paralegal, working his way through law school. He ran our massive legal department and all of its personnel. All three of them, including him. Two entry level clerks and a paralegal. Hell, after the last conversation we had, if the company could afford him, I was keeping him when he graduated. Another year. He kept in touch with the several different cases that we had going on, patent issues and the like, but the one he showed me with the patent infringement and his take on it ... Wow. He’d be good. The lawyer from the contract firm even said so. I think they wanted him, too.
“George. Hey, Charlie Jackson.”
“Just Charlie, for now, George. I’m in my boat, holding a lost child. She’s scared to death. The accident up here on the lake, Monday night? You heard about it?”
“You’re boating? During the week?”
“Had to. No time off for three months. I was going nuts. I worked yesterday and bailed. Sue me. No, don’t. You’d win.” I laughed.
He didn’t. “You are your father’s child. Still...”
“Yeah, Long Branch. Do you know anybody in Child Services? She’s an orphaned orphan. Does not want to be back in the system.” She pulled me closer by my neck, hugging me.
“Oh, no!” he yelled. “It’s here on the web. The couple that died on the boat were her adoptive parents?”
“Yeah. Not quite adopted yet, but close? No other family.”
“Stay there and keep your phone handy. Mr. Jackson ... Charlie, she was out there for two days?”
“Yeah. I’m trying to feed her and getting some water in her. She’s in one piece, George. Physically, but she won’t let go of my neck. We need help.”
“And you are willing to step in to help her? Sight unseen, no prior knowledge...”
“Yes, George. She has decided. Don’t ask me, because I don’t know. The question or the answer. Please, just find me some help.”
“Yes, sir. Stay put.” Click
“Robin. Is there anyone, or anything...”
“No, Mr. Charlie, they were it. I have things at their house, my clothes. My books. A picture of my mother. She died when I was four, they said.”
“Let go of my neck for a minute.”
“Promise not to leave me.”
“Hold my phone. I won’t leave without that.” I handed her my phone. She was playing with it as I stood her up and checked her closer. She was in a nylon spandex swim suit, starting to lose elasticity, but still chafing her legs and shoulders. I could see where her cheeks were rubbed raw, too. Probably the life jacket, if there was one, rubbing her face as she swam. Aha! Idea. She was dirty. A mess. The suit was rubbing her raw. I reached into the locker under the rod rack and pulled out a big rain jacket and my spare clothes. It was pretty warm out, so I figured a tank top may work, then, I rethought the issue. It would be way too baggy on her.
I got a bucket and a rag, put a bit of water in the bucket and explained it to her. “Robin, that suit is tearing your skin up. I’m going to put you into this rain coat. I want you to use it like a tent. Take off your suit, clean up a bit with this water.”
She looked around. I saw her take a look at a dock rope on the stern looped into the cleat, and she handed me my phone. In one fell swoop, she turned, grabbed the shoulder straps of her suit, pulled them down to her feet, stepped out of it, stooped to get then held the dock line and jumped in the water. A flash of a dirty little tail end was about all I saw. It was only about four feet deep. She held the rope with one hand and washed herself off with the other.
“Charlie, can you throw me the rag, please.” I did and she caught it with her free hand. She rubbed her arms, face, chest, then legs, and probably her underneath. “Owww. That’s a bit raw, but it feels better. As I climb back up will you hold the coat for me to get into?” I did, and it worked like a charm. She felt protected and not abandoned, with some modicum of propriety. I felt like I was helping, and she was cleaner. Interestingly, she climbed back into my lap, and said, “a little longer, please.” Of course, I nodded. I handed her my tank top, which she pulled into the jacket, to dry off with. I had a couple towels on board, but they were fishing rags, none too soft or nice smelling, I was sure. “Phone.” I handed it to her. She just played with it, going through my contacts list and looking at things. It rang and she handed it to me.
“Mr. Jackson, my name is Mathilda Matthews. Please be completely honest with me. I’m a family court judge in St. Charles County. I just received a call from a friend of a friend of a friend. And yes, I’m trying to obfuscate the relationship in case this whole thing goes south and you are a cretin. I understand you are in possession of a young girl?”
“Yes, ma’am, that is correct. I found her up on the bank of the lake I was ... Am fishing on.”
“Long Branch? Macon County?”
“Is she OK? Really OK?”
“Yes, and no, but you can ask her. Here, Robin. It’s a judge from down where I live.” I handed her the phone.
“Yes? This is Robin. (Pause.) Yes, Ma’am. Water and a sandwich. (Pause.) His raincoat. (Pause.) A little swimsuit, but it was dirty and rubbing my ... Between my legs and stuff. (Pause.) God, no. (Pause.) No. (Pause.) He seems to be. (Pause.) So far, yes. (Pause.) OK. Here, she wants to talk to you.” I took the phone back.
“How far are you from your vehicle and which boat ramp are you using?”
“The main ramp by the park. Quite a ways. Thirty minutes or so.”
“Stay where you are. I’ll call back in a bit.” Click.
“She asked if you had touched me and if you were nice.”
“But I have touched you.”
“Not what she meant. You really are a good guy, aren’t you? Hold me, please. I’m so scared.”
“Still hungry? Here. Have some more. I have another one.” She took the other half of the sandwich, eating it much slower, looking like she was thinking about something as she ate. She was looking at the motor on the back of the boat. Maybe not looking at it so much as gazing in that direction.
“Who are you?”
“Just a guy. Just graduated college. Well, second trip. I went to college, then into the service for a while so I could see some of what life has to offer, then graduate school for a business degree, then back here in St. Louis to take over our family’s company. My parents died while I was in the Air Force, so I got out and went to school then came home.”
“Oh. Are you married? Kids? Other family?”
“No. To all that.”
“We’ll see, Robin. First we need to make sure you are OK and get people to know you are OK. Someone has to be looking for you.”
“Who knows? My flip flops were on the boat, but I was sitting here thinking. They were the same size as Susan’s. There is nothing else on that boat to indicate I was even there, and they ... I don’t know. Maybe.” The phone rang. She answered it. “Charles Jackson’s phone. May I help you? (Pause.) Yes, Ma’am. We were just talking. (Long pause.) Yes. (Long pause.) Please. (Pause.) Thank you. Here he is.” She handed me the phone.
“An ambulance is going to meet you at the boat ramp. A local Sheriff’s Department detective will want to ask her about the accident. They are going to check Miss Rappaport out, then turn her back over to you on a temporary writ from me. Her request, by the way. Piss her off and you’ll be in jail before you can jump. Something to keep in mind. They are not to remove her from your immediate custody or control. She’s a bit skittish right now. She’s in your lap with her arm around your neck, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I held her and she calmed and stopped crying so hard.”
“That’s what I thought. Happens a lot. This one is a serious case. Double orphan. It’s going to be a rough ride, Mr. Jackson. I need you both in my office next Wednesday afternoon. Two-ish. Can you provide for her and make sure she’s OK until we talk?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Where...” She interrupted me.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Click.
“Robin, we’re leaving. You have two choices. Either move and sit next to me, or learn to drive a boat.”
She smiled. She had a very pretty smile, and with her face almost clean, I could even see it. I lowered the prop enough that it was in the water, started the motor, and pulled the aluminum hull off the pebbled beach of the cove. I showed her how to change from reverse to forward, how to finish tilting the motor down, and how to go faster. Steering was natural for her, but she asked me to do it since it was a bit stiff for her and she didn’t want to let go of my neck.
I just held her and kept her warm in the jacket. Her head rested on my shoulder and I felt her relax. Once we pulled around the jetty we saw the ambulance, so I went to the dock, pulling up to it and tying the stern to the cleat there. The bow rope was next, and I was able to tie off and get out, all with Robin in my other arm. I walked her up to the ambulance where the door was open and a female EMS medic was there to talk to her. The other EMS guy was with me while she went inside, leaving one of the back doors open.
“Charlie, can you sit in the doorway and watch your boat, please. Back up. Closer. Thanks. Just watch the boat. Good boy.” Giggle. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be, Robin. You need to smile, too. You’ll be OK.”
I heard, “Here, hon, put this on. It’s OK to fasten it in the front.” Robin asked if she could have it. “Yes, hon, and you can keep the slippers, too.” I heard them go through a bunch of things, pulse, blood pressure, talking about the rash, and all that. They were at it for about twenty minutes then I heard the young lady make a call. “No obvious problems, Ma’am. I’m turning her over to him on your orders to take her home. (Pause.) Yes, Ma’am, you’re welcome. Mr. Jackson, congratulations ... It’s a girl.”
The deputy pulled up about that time and came over to us. He asked Robin how the accident happened and what she explained to him indicated it was an accident caused by a fight between her ‘parents’. Funny, she didn’t shed a tear during the story. Maybe she sensed this Gary fellow really was looking at her funny. That didn’t explain the lack of sadness over the woman, but I’m sure I’d hear more in time.
Once the deputy was happy, well, I should say satisfied that he had as much info as he could get, he turned us loose. The EMS people told him to return the judge’s call, but he called his desk first, and was given the same instructions. He was to leave a card with the case number with Robin and allow them to go on their way. The Missouri Superior Court was taking jurisdiction, unless someone wanted to call in the FBI or Secret Service. No problem. This wasn’t that big of a deal.
She let me put her down while I backed the truck and trailer up, then put the boat on, secured it and stowed all the gear. Once in the truck, she lifted the console and sat next to me with her seat belt on.
“Robin, call George for me, please.”
She did, and once he answered, “George, Robin. Charlie would like to speak to you.”
“Wow, you finally worked in a PA. I’ll let HR know.”
“Stuff it, George. Who is Mathilda, exactly? Your job depends on you being honest.”
“My mother’s sister. My aunt Mattie.”
“A friend of a friend of a friend, to obfuscate the relationship? She must not like you.”
“She’s putting me through law school, so probably not. It’s torture. Not something you do to a loved one.”
“Good one. Thank you. I’m staying here through the weekend. Robin needs clothes and her status is up in the air. Your aunt wants us in her office Wednesday at two. You help me make sure that happens.”
“Yes, sir. Do you need help?”
“Robin, George wants to know if I need help.” She shook her head. “No, George, she indicated to the negative. She evidently thinks I can handle this. I thinks she’s older than she looks, and maybe smarter than me. We’ll see.”
“Not a good time for jokes, so I’ll leave you with this. I have two kids working for me that aren’t much younger than us or much older than her. Let me know if you have questions.”
“Got it. We’re going to Walmart, then the Quality Inn. If I don’t catch the phone, leave a message. My PA will get it.”
“Yes, sir. Bye.” Click.
“Looks like we’re on our own, doll.” That got me a big smile. “Lemme get us checked in. Hopefully they’ll take us early. I lied to George. Room first.” She giggled.
We checked in, and I was able to change my reservation and swing two adjacent kings with the door between them. Poor us, they had Jacuzzi tubs in them. Once we had my stuff stowed, and she was able to shower and clean up a bit, she put her hospital gown back on and off we went. Her slippers were none too cute. She was definitely a cutie, though. Light brown, maybe dark blonde hair, short, thin, cute. Typical ninth grader, I would imagine. I think she referred to being almost fifteen. We’ll see.
At Walmart, I had her pick up a shorts set, some jeans, a couple tops, some undergoods, socks and a pair of trainers. We could do a better shopping trip at home, but she informed me that she was used to this, but in a bigger Walmart. Oh. “Get what you need to feel like you are home. By the way, where is that, hon? I never got around to asking you. Where are you from?”
“We lived in Kirksville. We came down all the time with the boat. It was about the only time they didn’t fight, but I guess ... Never mind.” I stopped her throwing stuff in the basket and hugged her to me. She returned it, squeezing me and burying her face in my chest. “Thank you. Don’t hurt me. Please.”
“I won’t. I promise, but I have the same request. Robin, pick out what you want to wear today. Do you need anything for the rash right now?”
“No. Loose clothes will be fine. These shorts, sandals, blouse, panties, and bra. I’ll be fine. I’ll just turn this bra into a halter, and voila. All done.” When I saw the bra, I realized I was not dealing with a child. She was NOT a little girl. I had only seen her that way because she was cowering, helpless, crying, afraid, and alone. Realization was setting in. Congratulations, it’s a girl, my ass. Congratulations, it’s a young woman.
I told the lady at the fitting rooms what we were doing, took the stuff to the customer service desk, told them what was happening, paid for what she needed right at that moment, took it back for her to wear, then we kept shopping. Personals, snacks, Desitin ointment was recommended for her rash (you can find anything on the interweb), I couldn’t believe how much stuff we had, but, she said, “You told me to get what I needed to feel like I was home.”
“Yeah, but remember, we’re going to go home soon and we have more stores. Just keep that in mind.”
“OK.” She put one of the six packs of panties back. Cool. She understood. Now, I had to ... Oh my god. School, after school, sports, nightclothes, shopping for everything. This was going to be the most fun nightmare ever. I actually liked to shop, and doing it with my new ... New friend? Doing it with Robin would be fun. I was going back to work on Monday, but ... Or was I? We may need some time to get things sorted. Until then we could see if we get along. “Charlie, your mind is racing. Relax. If you will keep me, you won’t be sorry. That is all you need to worry about.” She was standing in front of me in the cutest little outfit. Lace edged short shorts, a matching blouse, and a smile. The little high heeled sandals were cute, too. I couldn’t see anything else, but I didn’t need to. As long as she was comfortable.
“No issues with the rash?”
“No, the halter bra is keeping it off my shoulders, and the nylon boy short panties are smooth and not putting any pressure on my ... Under area. I’m fine. I’m going to need the ointment pretty soon, though. Different issue. We’ll talk.” I nodded. I’m pretty sure I knew.
“I could eat, but ... Never mind. Whatever you want to do is fine with me. Beggars can’t be choosy and all that.”
“That’s not how it’s going to work, kiddo. If you’re wanting to hang around with the Big C, you’re going to have to help pitch in. You need to help decide stuff and help clean up stuff. That’s how responsibility works. Double edged sword.”
“Mexican,” she said, staring straight at me.
“I know we just met, but honey, I love you.”
“Feed me Mexican and it’ll be a two way street.” She giggled again. Cute sound.
We finished our shopping trip, and headed out for the hotel room; I put the refrigerated snacks in the mini fridge while she spent a few minutes in the bathroom with the Desitin, then off we went to La Jimidora, the local Mexican eatery.
She has an experienced, or experimental palate. Both are good traits.
I got a margarita and she got a Mountain Dew. She liked mine more than hers, I think. She also likes tamales, chili rellenos, chili verde, and pico de gallo. I told her we had a lot, A LOT, in common. She laughed.
“Four of the most popular Mexican foods served north of the border. Not a stretch, Mr. Jackson. But, it’s good to know. We can start our relationship there. Charlie, I can cook. One thing foster kids learn to do early. Both because they’re expected to work and also for survival.”
“Robin, I think we are going to have fun together if Mathilda lets you keep me.” She giggled again.
We spent the weekend, with the judge calling to check on her twice. Both times, she told me later, she made it clear she felt safe, was happy where she was, and used my line on the judge that she wanted to keep me, if I’d have her. It seems she was a bit of an outdoor girl, liking the water a lot, and had no problems learning to fish.
The last morning on the lake, Sunday, she seemed more comfortable sitting, standing, walking, and asking her about it, she told me the Desitin was working, and the rash on her butt had all but cleared up. She was unable to clean up well in the woods, so got a bit of diaper rash, but it was almost gone now. She kissed me on the cheek and hugged me, thanking me for asking about it.
Sunday afternoon, we headed for home knowing there was a lot to do starting tomorrow. The old school needed to be told she was moving, a new school found, and shopping to be done. The judge called us again on Sunday night talking to her about her things at her home. The foster’s family was heir to all their insurance, home, money, belongings, and the like, leaving nothing in Robin’s name, but the judge wanted her to have whatever she wanted or needed from there. After careful consideration, she decided nothing in the house was hers except what was in that room, so it was decided: The room was packed up and sent to my place. What arrived on Wednesday depressed me.
A picture in a plastic frame, her birth certificate, a passport, and about six changes of clothes, with two pairs of trainers, and that was about it. There were school books and a backpack as well, but the books were packed up and returned to the school up there. They had been in session for a grand total of three days before the Labor Day weekend.
We had talked a bit on Sunday night, with me asking her what she wanted to do with her life, long term. She let me know that she’d never had a chance to think about it much. I asked her to call the judge back. She had said, any time, so I called her on it.
“Judge Matthews,” I asked her, “is there a requirement to have her in public school?”
“No, Mr. Jackson, but I don’t think it would be to her benefit to be home schooled. That would be tough anyway, since I understand you are a newly appointed CEO of a manufacturing company.”
“Checking up on me, are we?”
“My question was a bit more extraordinary than home schooling, Ma’am. I wanted to know if I could put her in private school. We have one here, close. I did some research. It’s pretty well rated.”
“Yes, Ma’am, but if we do that, I want her going in without her background. My name, all that.”
“We can do that. You can enroll her with your last name if you wish. Only the three of us and George will know. Step parents enroll their step kids in school that way all the time.”
“Thank you. That saves a couple of issues. She’s old enough to be on her own in the afternoons. Approaching fifteen from what I understand.” Robin nodded and whispered November.
“Thinking more about this, you might want to check with her. That’s not a slide through program. Ninety percent of the girls in this city couldn’t handle it.”
Robin heard her and whispered in my ear, “Tell her I’ll explain on Wednesday, but I’ll be fine.”
“Judge, she said she’d be fine and would explain on Wednesday.”
“Well, go for it, then. Just let them know I need her Wednesday afternoon. The people I spoke to in Kirksville Friday said she was a straight A student, but junior high in a small city is different than the workload at Pritchard. Tell her I said ‘Hi’ and to take care of you. I’ll see you guys in a couple days.”
“I will, Ma’am,” Robin yelled. I heard the judge laughing as she hung up.
We finally got to sleep that evening, but it wasn’t without a minor catastrophe. I put her in the spare bedroom. It had a full bathroom it shared with my parent’s ... With my workout room. This was going to be hard to get used to. It’s been two and a half years, but I still miss them and consider the house to be theirs.
Anyway, I got her and her new stuff back there, said goodnight, getting a hug from the little urchin who was dressed in one of my long t-shirts. We’d totally forgotten pajamas, or she expected this, I’ll probably never know which.
I was watching the Fox News Channel when I saw a faint shadow in my periphery. “What’s up, punkin?”
“Can’t sleep. Can I lay down here and listen to the news for a bit? I’ll probably get tired. It’s getting close to mid-term election time.” She giggled.
Think, Chuck, think. “Sure, doll.” I covered myself up good, then pulled just the bedspread back, but not the sheet, for her to lay down on one of the other pillows. It’s a king. Lots of real estate. I set the timer on the TV and don’t remember much else. Certainly not any moving around or such.
I woke up with her under the sheets, snuggled up to me, arm over my chest, leg over my thigh, sleeping ever so comfortably. My only problem was, I wasn’t wearing anything. I’d have to fix that in the future. The judge did warn me. This was a bad case. She wasn’t letting go of my neck yet, so to speak. Trying to get up without her seeing me was a no-go. But I just kept moving, thankfully away from her, into the bathroom to take my morning leak when I heard her say, “Good morning, Charlie. What do you want for breakfast? I rummaged through your fridge last night before we called the judge. You have lots of fixin’s.”
“You pick. Your favorite on your first morning in your new home. I hope, anyway.”
“Awwww. That’s nice. Thanks.”
I got done, threw on some boxers and a robe and went to the kitchen to watch a wonder. “Can we talk about last night’s sleeping arrangements?”
“Absolutely. You’ll probably want to wear your underpants to bed, I’ll keep my hands to myself, and neither of us should discuss it outside the kitchen or that bedroom. Scrambled with ham bits and cheese OK? You have sourdough that still looks OK to eat. We should get a few things while we’re shopping for my new plaid skirts and khakis today. They don’t look too bad on the web site, although twenty-five grand a year seems a little much. You sure you don’t mind, Chuck? That’s quite an investment in an unknown. Certainly a risk with a waif like me. Sorry for not stopping. I’m so afraid I’ll stop talking and you’ll crash my universe by telling me not to ever go back into your room.”
“After that spiel, I think it’s best if I don’t have that reaction. Just be very careful so that you don’t wind up with your pillow spending the next twenty years in jail. That is what would happen if the judge found out about last night.”
“That’s stupid. You didn’t touch me. Never mind. Charlie, trust me. I’ll protect you above myself. All I can do is promise. Proof over time. We eating at the bar or the table?”
“Yes, orange. I’ll get it.”
“Thanks, Charlie.” It was just like we’d been together for years. Unbelievable. She fed me an amazing scramble with toast, then we cleaned up the kitchen together, showered, dressed, separately I might add, and convened back in the kitchen to get some things done.
I called the Academy, asking if I could speak to the Headmistress, or whatever the title would be for the director, about putting my newfound charge in their establishment. The receptionist laughed, saying, “Headmaster, but she’s a woman. We’re not all laced up with Political Correctness here, Mr. Jackson. We don’t have a women’s studies class, either. They’re all women. We hope they figure that out by themselves.” She started laughing. “I’m forwarding you to Sarah Thatcher now. She’s actually just the Director, by title. Have a great day, sir, and please let me know if I can help you in the future.”
I heard a click, then, “Sarah Thatcher, how may I help you?”
“Mizz Thatcher, I would like to discuss enrolling a young lady in your school. We live a couple blocks from there, you have a fine reputation, and she’s in need of an education source. And she’s a she.”
“You have met about three of the five criteria, Mr?”
“Jackson. If the other two are tuition and intelligence, I think we may have that under control.”
“That would help. We’d have to check both, as well as a background check.”
“On me or her?”
“How about if you call Judge Mathilda Matthews for the background check on her and let your hounds loose on me.”
“Mr. Jackson, your full name?”
“Charles Allen Jackson. Aye Ell Ell Ee En on Allen.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jackson. Can I call you back in a few minutes?”
“Yes, no problem. Thank you.” I turned to the growth on my neck. “She’s going to call back. What’s this you are going to tell the judge?”
“Promise not to laugh?” I nodded. “I think I’m smart. Really smart. I can read people too. I knew you were a good person as you walked up the rocks to get me. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. I knew Susan was a nice person. I knew Gary wasn’t. I know Judge Mathilda is. I think George is. I can just tell.”
“What about Mizz Thatcher?”
“Doesn’t matter. She’s a bureaucrat and the head of the school. I have to kiss her butt anyway!” She giggled. “Sorry. She’s honest. That’s all I know so far. I only heard her talk a couple times to you. Put her on speaker when she calls back.”
The phone rang. I answered straight to speaker. “Charlie Jackson.”
“I spoke to Mattie. Oops, Judge Matthews. That’s done. She did a little check on you Friday. That’s good enough for us. Mattie asked me to keep Robin’s status between the four of us, just to make sure there isn’t that stigma. I agree. Kid needs a fresh start. Yes, I know we’re on speaker and I can hear her breathing in the background. Nice phone, Mr. Jackson.”
“Thanks. Now, what about my little girl starting there.”
“Thursday. Mattie says you have a meeting Wednesday afternoon. A day and a half of school at the beginning of her freshman year isn’t going to change anything on her Stanford application.”
“Quite an assumption, Mizz Thatcher.”
“Sarah. Not a fan of legacy schools, Mr. Jackson?”
“Charlie. Just Charlie, for now. Not really. It’s not the conservative educational establishment my parents went to, Sarah. I’m not sure I want her there, unless she chooses liberalism or socialism as her calling. Think Berkeley in the 60s and 70s, well ... and now, come to think of it.”
“Got it. I need an email address for her shopping list and such. And then ... Can you take us off speaker for a sec?”
“Go ahead. She knows it’s going to be expensive. She’s a bright kid.”
“OK, as you wish. A check for fourteen thousand for the semester. Non-refundable. If you decide our school is for you, you can save a bit by paying by the year. Twenty-five for the year.” I looked at Robin, she nodded.
“We’ll do the year thing. When do you test her?”
“We won’t. Mattie had her school records from Kirksville. She’ll be fine. Freshman year is about like public school. The year after that, though, the nightmare starts.” She giggled, and Robin caught it, following with one of her own. Sarah continued, “We do pride ourselves in our seniors’ entrance exams. Highest in the state on average, but you saw that on the web, didn’t you, Charlie?”
“Yes. It got me deeper into the information about your school. OK, so it’s email@example.com. Will it mention where to get all the items? Uniforms? What are we talking here?”
“You’ll see, but remember, the girls in this school, save two from each class, are the debutants of this town, Charlie. Robin will need to be accessorized accordingly.”
“What about the other two?” Robin asked.
“Full ride scholarships as long as they maintain a three point oh, a B or above grade average and play at least one sport. We have benefactors, or they have school sisters who handle the rest. You’ll love them. It’s hard to get the slots, so the students we give them to are not slouches, trust me. They normally go on to win full rides at universities. They know what’s at stake. You may be asked to help out at some time, and you can always volunteer, but as newbies, let’s give it a while. Questions?”
“We don’t know what we don’t know yet, Sarah. See you Thursday morning. This gives us two and a half days to get her ready, though.”
“See you then.” My phone, and the tablet on the table both dinged. I handed the iPad to Robin. She opened up the email.
“Wow. I don’t know how I’m going to make this up to you, Charlie, but I’ll try.” We gazed at the list which included uniform skirts, pants, jackets, sweaters, shirts, tie tabs, and described allowable shoes. It went on with school supplies, then ended with dinner wear. One formal and two cocktail dresses, high heels appropriate for the outfits, and stockings, colors and styles to be chosen by the student. “Oh, God, Charlie, I’ve never had nice things before. I have no idea what to do. I’m lost.”
“Don’t you dare worry, darling. I’ll help. Watch this.” I called George. “George, it’s me. Hey, those two kids you have working for you. (Pause.) That old, huh? They look younger than that. They dress nice at work, don’t they? (Pause.) OK, tell them both they are working for me tomorrow. Special project. Top Secret No Peekie. Yeah. My house. Eight o’clock and prepare for overtime. Just in case. (Pause.) Yes, lunch is included. They drive a hard bargain. Tell them a nice dinner, too, if I keep them overtime. They’re both single, right? (Pause.) Oh. Go figure. That works out even better. Thanks.” I hung up. “OK, doll. I have personal shoppers lined up for you tomorrow. Today we get the uniform stuff. I’d rather do the high-end stuff than save a couple bucks. I have a feeling you’ll be here a while. Tomorrow I’ll go with the three of you for the dresses and shoes and things. Shawls. l remember shawl. I heard that somewhere in a story. The guy put a shawl over his girl’s shoulders. Looking good. A plan cometh together. Don’tcha think?”
“And I thought I talked a lot when I was nervous.” She giggled. Her benefactor spanked her. The giggle grew into a laugh and we hugged it out. “Thank you for finding me, Charlie.” She kissed me on the lips, startling me a bit. Then she smiled and walked away.
“Hurry. Let’s go!” I yelled. “You’re burning daylight!” She came back in, looking for all intents and purposes the field fairy, smiling ear to ear. Cute kid.